Noncom Ad Dilemma

Public TV and radio stations may be required to post political files online

Will noncommercial broadcasters have to start posting political files online? That is one of many questions public TV and radio stations will face following a court decision that allows stations, at least within the jurisdiction of the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, to sell political spots and issue ads.

In a blog posting, Clifford Harrington, who heads the communications group at D.C. law firm Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman, raised a number of issues about how noncoms could proceed with their newfound, though limited, advertising powers (the court is not letting the stations sell commercial spots, just political and issue ads).

Harrington’s points included whether reasonable access applies to noncoms, which would mean that stations would be required to sell political ads even if they didn’t want to. “While the reasonable access provision of the Communications Act appears to exempt noncommercial educational stations from that requirement, it is a content-related law, and therefore raises questions as to whether the disparate treatment of commercial and noncommercial stations for this purpose is constitutional,” Harrington wrote.

Then there is the question of how to set the lowest unit-rate charge for a station that can’t sell other types of ads. That lowest-unit-rate question is one noncom stations are trying to answer.